89: American Sharon

89: American Sharon

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: My Kind (of) America

American Sharon

Life is a celebration of awakenings, of new beginnings, and wonderful surprises that enlighten the soul.

~Cielo

The night before Sharon’s U.S. citizenship test, I heard a knock on my back door. My friend, who had emigrated from India, stood in the moonlight with her well-worn study booklet in hand.

“Quiz me,” Sharon deadpanned.

Shaking my head, I couldn’t help but laugh. “I knew you’d be popping over here tonight!”

Sharon’s back yard and my back yard face each other. Even though we are in different phases of family life, we quickly became friends by sharing a yard. While Sharon is busy running her two young children to swim practice, play dates, and birthday parties, I’m busy daydreaming about the day my adult children make me a grandmother. Yet years together have made us more like family.

I skimmed the booklet as I snuggled into my living room couch, and Sharon settled in on the overstuffed leather recliner. The questions took me back to my high school civics class where we studied public law, U.S. government and the role we play as citizens.

The longer I quizzed Sharon, the more I couldn’t help but wonder: How well would I do if I took a residency exam in Bangalore, India? Hmmm . . . my intuition tells me, not so well. Even though Sharon’s pronunciation of Ws sound like Vs, she was acing this practice exam.

“How many U.S. Senators are there?”

“100.”

“Who led America through World War I?”

“Wilson Woodrow.”

“Well, it’s Woodrow Wilson, but close enough.”

To pass the naturalization process, an applicant must get six out of ten randomly selected questions right. The next day, Sharon answered the first six questions in a row correctly and was given a date to come back and take the official Oath of Allegiance.

The day she exuberantly took her oath marked the completion of her extensive process to become an American citizen. Sharon, her husband, and youngest child traveled to Hartford for the ceremony, but little did she know the festivities were only beginning.

A few weeks later, in celebration of her accomplishment, my family threw her a traditional backyard American barbecue, complete with Nan’s potato salad and Fran’s homemade apple pie. The invitation asked all guests to bring Sharon a fun red, white, and blue present. Sharon’s pile of mementos grew to look like a bride’s dowry. Stars and stripes flip-flops, a stars and stripes pillow, Fourth of July–motif placemats, and a coffee mug that read YOU DID IT were among the treasures.

As she unwrapped each gift, neighbors and friends told their own tales of naturalization. Fatima, a native of Portugal, shared her journey to become an American citizen. As a French-Canadian teenager, Steve crossed the border with his parents to begin a family business. Deepak, who was lucky enough to have family in this country to sponsor him, enrolled in the college of his choice and, in due course, became a U.S. citizen.

By evening’s end, the red, white, and blue tree streamers and silver-foil stars that so perfectly decorated the trees were tangled and dangling from the branches they’d so cleverly adorned. No one cared. The last of the partygoers were lined up, barefoot, on the damp grass. American Sharon — a nickname she chose for herself and befitting our country’s giddiest citizen — became our impromptu Bollywood dance instructor.

On that spring day, through kindness, generosity and heartfelt stories, our Connecticut neighborhood became its own little United Nations. That’s my kind of America.

~Beth A. Molinaro

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